With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down public life, one can stay at home or search for outdoor spaces where there are few other people and enjoy the natural sights. One can also do research from home on hidden urban waterways by comparing historical photos, aerial surveys, and maps.
On the corner of 108th Street and the Long Island Expressway, is a previously underdeveloped superblock where Horse Brook flowed. Construction is underway on a trio of affordable apartment towers to join the three that were built here in the 1970s. Block by block, the empty spaces where Horse Brook flowed are filling up with buildings, leaving fewer traces of this phantom waterway.
The city’s largest freshwater lake offers enough details in its design and history to allow for multiple posts. Having previously focused on the Aquacade that stood at Meadow Lake, and the history of Jewel Avenue Bridge, I turn to its northwest corner, where Horse Brook had its confluence with Flushing Creek.
On the above image, the red triangle shows the location of my parents’ home, which will be built atop the filled Horse Brook stream bed in 1950.
In the time between this 1937 photo and the opening of the 1939 World’s Fair, the transformation of the wetlands along Flushing Creek into Flushing Meadows is one of the most unrecognizable landscape alterations in the city in the past century. Around Meadow Lake, it includes a few rejected proposals worth remembering.
The largest freshwater lake in the city covers 95 acres within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. In contrast to the park’s central core that was an ash landfill prior to its acquisition by the city, the site of Meadow Lake was a salt marsh where Horse Brook flowed into Flushing Creek.
The 1937 image above shows Meadow Lake assuming its present-day shape just before construction commenced on exhibits for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. There is so much to see in this photo, so here’s an explanatory tour back in time. Continue reading
The state of Utah was founded on very lofty ideas and the Mormon settlers who developed the state applied a few biblical names to the map: Jordan River, Zion, and Moab. The capital city however has a plain name, Salt Lake City and the stream that continued to the city’s growth also has a simple name: City Creek.
Today this hidden urban stream is associated with a shopping center in the city’s downtown, where a channel resembling the creek flows through the mall to the delight of shoppers. Continue reading
The corner of Corona Avenue and 108th Street has the most famous Italian Ice vendor in the city. Most of its customers do not know that a century ago there was a pond on this location used primarily for ice harvesting.
Looking at a 1902 atlas from the New York Public Library, we see Corona Avenue running past this pond and Central Avenue (present-day 108th street) ending at the pond. As a reference, the triangular block later designated as Moore Park has been marked. Continue reading
The street behind Forest Hills Cooperative Houses skews off the grid by a few degrees and was part of the ancient North Hempstead Plank Road. Reflecting its history, the one-block road is named Colonial Avenue. For nearly three centuries, the road traversed a small island in the middle of Horse Brook. On the island were a gristmill and a hotel.
In 1930, the Long Island Expressway obliterated all traces of the mill and its island, which was no wider than the highway. So much of early Queens history is associated with this mill, perhaps even the reason why today we speak English instead of Dutch. Continue reading
If there is a hidden stream in New York City that resonates the most in my life, it is Horse Brook, whose course runs directly below my mother’s house. No trace of this stream remains today as it was gradually covered in phases. On the map, the only hints of this stream are superblocks that defy the surrounding street grid. These blocks avoided development until technology enabled construction atop the high water table marking the former streambed.
The last entirely undeveloped superblock on the stream’s path is the Newtown High School athletic field. Recently, this site was proposed for a pre-kindergarten. In response, Newtown High School alum Libely Rivas Tejada started a petition to preserve the open space. So far, 570 individuals have signed on. Continue reading
In 1874, a map like none other was unfurled before city planners by Col. Egbert Ludovicus Viele. Designed in a time when the city was rapidly expanding north thanks to advances in public transportation, Viele captured for posterity the locations of the island’s springs, brooks, creeks, and swamps, where land meets landfill, tracing former shorelines and hilltops. To this day, this map is used by structural engineers in Manhattan, who check it for buried streams when constructing buildings, tunnels and utility lines.
With 82 of the 101 hidden city streams in my book located outside of Manhattan, what map did I use to find these waterways? Continue reading